A Brief History of Balsall Common


The name “Balsall” comes from the Anglo Saxon word “Baelle” meaning corner (or angle) of land, and “heale” meaning a sheltered place. Balsall Common itself lies on a flat site in gently undulating country on the watershed between the streams draining to the Tame and the Trent in the north and to the Avon and the Severn in the south. The soils are clay and sandy loam, which are suitable for agriculture. The name Balsall dates back to Saxon times and there have been many different spellings of the name since: for example in the 18th century it was recorded as “Balshall”, as it was in Christopher Saxon’s map of Warwickshire in 1575. “Balshall” was, of course, referring to Temple Balsall, which has an older history than Balsall Common, for at the time Saxon drew his map Balsall Common was heathland without any roads as we know them today.

Balsall was, up until 1863, part of the parish of Hampton-in-Arden. It describes the parish as being the shape of an eqilateral triangle some 3.5 miles its base to its northern apex, with Berkswell on the east and Knowle and Barston on the west. There was very little woodland and many small streams and ponds, rising from 300ft in the north to about 400ft in the south. The older roads are mostly lanes, but in the south-east, on what was Balsall Heath, a number of striaght roads have been laid out since the Enclosure Acts of 1802.

From the top of theĀ turnpike roads of Warwickshire the road from Kenilworth to Stonebridge (through Balsall) was a turnpike road, as was the Balsall to Solihull road via Barston, but not Knowle. This road is now Balsall Street East, which runs on past the Saracen’s Head, the oldest inn in the parish.

Another map of plan of turnpike roads in 1813 shows the toll gates that controlled the traffic along the Kenilworth Road. One was sited on the Kenilworth/Balsall boundary, just beyond the Tolgate garage, and the other was marked at Stonebridge on the Birmingham side of the island.

In the early part of the 19th century stage coaches between Stratford-on-Avon and Coleshill raced through Balsall Common along what is now the Kenilworth Road. Horses were changed at the “Shay House”, an old brick dwelling on the left before one reaches the George in the Tree public house.

Before the roads were turnpiked, and even afterwards drovers from the Hills and mountains of North Wales drove their Cattle and sheep along the tracks through the village, stopping overnight at the George in the Tree. The animals would be kept safe during darkness in the large enclosures behind the George, while the drovers were comfortable inside the inn. The Kenilworth Road was not so named then, but was known as the Welsh Road. The drovers were taking their cattle and sheep to Kenilworth, Southam and Banbury, and finally to London, where they hoped to make a good sale.

Today, the centre of the village is the shopping centre near the roundabout, where Station Road crosses Kenilworth Road, A hundred years ago the village centre was the Blacksmith’s shop, where station Road meets Balsall Street East. The Blacksmith’s shop has since been a Marine Boat shop and is now a commercial retailer. Station Road was then known as Riley’s Lane. Riley was the Blacksmith, and in front of his shop was a triangle of green on which stood a large ash tree, Nearly adjacent to the blacksmith’s shop was the foundary, the sawpit and the wheelwright’s shop.

In 1838 the London to Birmingham railway line was opened and trains passed through where Berkswell Station now is. the station was not built until 1853 and Balsall Common does not appear to have grown because of the railway line being built, for it was not until the 1950’s that Balsall Common really began to expand and grow into the very large village it is today.

The Village of Balsall Common is of recent origin – most of the houses and shops were built in the 20th century. 200 years ago the village consisted of a couple of hamlets of about 6 to 12 houses each and a few scattered cottages. In the 1930’s there began the development which linked these isolated buildings, but it was not until after the second world war (1939-1945) that the village really began to grow. The village is expanding rapidly – Today the population is 12,000. In 1976, the estimated population was 5,000. The village it seems is on its way to becoming a small town.

Old village centre (Balsall Street East/Station road)

New village centre (Station Road/Kenilworth Road)

The White Horse

The present building is modern but the original pub was a little two-up two-down cottage, which was used as a beer-house or ale-house. It was called the Plough and every first Monday after 13th August there used to be held here the Balsall Wake. there were races from High Cross to the Plough, for which the prize was a quarter of a pound of tea. the men bowled for a duck in the field behind the inn. Mrs. Matthews was the inn-keeper at the time and her husband, known as “stocking Joe” went round selling stockings and braces.

‘pictured above, the White Horse in different incarnations’.

The Brickmakers

Very little is known of the history of this pub but it must date back a number of centuries, Its name suggests a connection with the brick industry- In the early 20th century the fields behind the Brickmakers’ Arms were referred to by locals as “The Bricklefields”. Clay had been dug there so there was probably a kiln.

‘pictured above is the Brickmakers Arms’

The Railway Inn

This inn has obvious connections with the opening of the railway line in 1838. There are records of it’s existance in 1850 and seemingly it was built between 1838 and 1850.

pictured above is the Railway Inn’